Poverella making a difference for those who have little


TAYLORS — A Catholic response of sponsoring poor families and individuals out of poverty and dependence into meaningful employment and independent living is not only being looked at as a statewide model, but has also been drawing national interest.

The Poverella Ministry assists and guides families in making the transition from dependency to self sufficiency by enlisting parishioners from Catholic churches to become mentors/sponsors for people moving off welfare, for single parents as they strive toward independent living and for families who are minimum-wage poor.

Developed by Sister Margie Hosch, OSF, regional coordinator for Catholic Charities in the Piedmont Deanery, the Poverella effort is also adding an ecumenical flavor, as the Methodist Church, Southern Baptists and Latter Day Saints have all shown interest in adopting the program.

In the Upstate, 16 Poverella teams/couples/individuals have been formed, and 102 Poverellas have been training from eight parishes. Fourteen families, comprising 48 individuals, are currently being sponsored.

Catholic Charities is collaborating on this effort along with state and federal agencies and private charities, such as Putting Families First, Consolidated Church agencies, the United Way and the Department of Social Services. These government and private agencies called for assistance from churches after the passage of welfare reform legislation to partner with them in reaching out to the very needy.

Currently, there are more than 12,000 families in South Carolina that have been identified as needing assistance. Over 90 percent of these are single mothers and children.

Volunteers who enlist with Poverella Ministry don’t sign up for a one or two day mission, but a commitment of one to two years. Training and information is provided by Catholic Charities, along with the other organizations mentioned above. Families wanting to enroll in the program are screened and informed of their requirements.

The Poverella mentors/sponsors are not caretakers, but individuals who provide guidance, financial consultation, caring and understanding. Mentors are called upon to help their assigned families become self sufficient. Families are linked with existing community resources such as tutoring programs, transportation, sitter services and employment readiness programs that advise them how to find and keep a job.

At a gathering of Poverella volunteers at Prince of Peace Church in Taylors on April 25, attendees answered questions about their spiritual growth since becoming a Poverella, their experience with their sponsored family and what has been frustrating.

In the invitation mailed out before the session, Sister Margie wrote, “By this time you know, only too well, the frustrations, the joys, the patience, the perseverance and the faith and trust in God which this ministry entails. Like the saying goes, ‘It takes a lot of slow to grow.'”

Sister Margie’s statement summed up many of the emotions expressed that day, with some laughter and a few tears shed that Saturday morning by the Upstate volunteers.

One volunteer told of miraculously receiving much needed furniture for a family right before Easter, while another couple told of their travails with their sponsor family, which included a bigoted, sexist husband, two young boys with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and a very meek wife and mother. Recently, the boys had set a fire in the trailer home the family was renting, causing the foursome to look for new housing. The boys had locked their mother out of the home prior to setting the blaze and she was unable to reenter the trailer, as her husband did not want her to be in possession of a key.

The couple also recounted the husband’s verbal abuse of his wife during their first meeting with the family. After that initial gathering, in which the man was informed that he needed to attend counseling in order to deal with his anger, some progress has been made. At a recent trip to a baseball game with the man and his two sons, a first for the boys as well as the father, he told his sponsor that, after his car was repaired, he would like to bring his wife and sons back to see another ballgame. The mentor then closed with a statement from a homily he had heard at Prince of Peace: “You don’t get merit badges for loving the unlovable.”

Another sponsor at the gathering told of finding out that her client had four teeth pulled at the public dental clinic when they in fact just needing fillings. And another mentor talked about the woman she sponsors, who is about to undergo surgery but gets no support from the two family members with whom she lives. A sponsor couple also discussed the situation of the woman they mentor, who seemed to be making progress but recently tested positive on a drug test, although vehemently denying she has used drugs.

Also at the session, Sister Margie emphasized the need for Spanish speaking Poverella volunteers, stating that 20,000 to 25,000 Hispanics live in the Greenville area alone and that 500 to 800 attend the Spanish Mass at St. Mary’s Church there.

In the last week of April, Poverella training sessions were held at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Spartanburg and St. Mary Magdalene Parish in Simpsonville. Further training is scheduled for June in Laurens, Greenwood and Newberry.

One of the most important things sponsors attempt to do for their clients is assist them in setting personal, financial, education and employment goals. According to Poverella training material, “These goals should be simple and easy to meet. Otherwise this could overwhelm and foster a defeatist attitude. This could also overwhelm you as you help the client achieve these goals and hold them accountable. Meeting simple goals will give small successes which may lead to large successes.”

Goal setting guidelines tell mentors to write down potential goals to work toward with their clients. Goals are then to be discussed with the client, deciding which goals to pursue first. Large goals are to be broken down into small steps, and these small goals are to be kept in a visible but safe place. Afterwards, the small goals are to be arranged in logical and sequential order, rewritten so they are measurable, and progress evaluated according to the small steps. The small goals that are completed are then marked off.

Examples of personal goals could be daily schedule and personal appearance/attitude. For those not currently employed, a scheduled day will aid in the transition to an employment schedule, so examples of work to be accomplished during specific time periods could be listed. And personal appearance, while not only important for initial employment and future promotions, is also critical for self-esteem.

Financial planning for budget goals is vital in moving clients toward self sufficiency. Mentors assist families in assessing their total financial situation, developing a simple budget based on current monthly income and expenses, and coming up with a simple plan to meet current obligations in current income. Future incomes goals are also set, showing what kind of job is needed in order to meet these goals.

Other objectives, such as “smart” shopping, establishing checking and savings accounts, and discouraging the use of credit and credit cards also relate to achieving these personal goals.

Lastly, to achieve education/employment goals, the development of a professional resume, obtaining job education/training, teaching job interview skills, and the importance of keeping a job, being on time, a positive attitude, and working hard once employed are stressed.

“How great it is to be part of a community of people so dedicated to the poor,” said Sister Margie to the Poverella volunteers.